"False dawn" for tech in 2005 general election

IT didn't play an integral role in party campaigns, says Electoral Commission...

IT didn't play an integral role in party campaigns, says Electoral Commission...

The 2005 general election was another "false dawn" for the use of technology by the political parties in their campaigning, according to a new report by the Electoral Commission (EC).

The EC report on voter engagement and media coverage of the general election earlier this year has concluded that electronic campaigning "did not play an integral role" in the national campaigns by the main political parties.

The Labour Party's eCampaigns unit used emails and text messages to mobilise core voters across the country but the party said it did not find e-campaigning to have been particularly influential.

The Conservative Party said it found e-campaigning had limited usefulness only - for targeting key 'floating' voters. And, despite heavily promoting its election website, the Liberal Democrats also found e-campaigning was not particularly influential.

One of the more successful electronic tactics used appears to have been DVDs sent out by the Labour Party, which were tailored towards individual constituencies and featured messages from the local candidate and from Prime Minister Tony Blair, according to the EC report. But not all initiatives were well-received at the time. The Labour Party received strong criticism earlier this year for a series of spam emails it sent in the run-up to the election.

One tactic more widely used in the 2005 election than in 2001 was more extensive use of telephone voter identification and automated telephone calls.

But the use of new technology was most obvious in the key marginal constituency battlegrounds, including the detailed databases and voter analysis software allowing parties to better target floating voters - covered as part of silicon.com's election special report earlier this year.

Despite the "false dawn" of electronic campaigning in 2005, the EC claims technology will play a greater role in the electoral process in future.

The report said: "The willingness on the part of all the main parties, and some of the smaller ones, to embrace an array of modern campaigning methods and technologies indicates that these are likely to become increasingly important to the nature of political campaigning at future general elections."

Yet plans for the introduction of electronic voting in time for the next general election are starting to look shaky: trials of the technology initially planned for 2006 have now been scrapped with no new date set.